Monday, March 24, 2014

The Grey Area - My Little Writing Project!

Okay people, so today I am starting with my little experiment that I explained onSaturday. If you are confused please refer to the tab - My Book!! 

In short, this is a kind of project where I publish one chapter every Monday of a novel that I wrote... And you, dear reader, have a great role to play. You not only read it, but I encourage you to give constructive criticism and honest feedback. You can say you are kind of an editor... I will make note of your suggestions and might make appropriate changes in the storyline, character development, language et al.

Here is the Prologue. Do leave your valuable comments...

If you like what you read, do share it with your friends too!  

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PROLOGUE


‘Sometimes running away is just what you need.’

10th October

Mukti’s hands were shaking as she threw the last couple of clothes into the suitcase. She looked around and saw her apartment, all boxed up. Two years of her life, the colorful memories, the excitement of living on her own, her independence, her dreams of making it big… all packed up in some ordinary, nondescript brown cartons.

Her gaze stopped at her book corner. Once, filled with books, it was now covered with old newspapers and bubble wrap sheets. It almost felt alive earlier, pulsating with words… like a musty-smelling secret passageway to the minds of different authors.  Now, with all the books packed away, it felt empty and devoid of companionship.

Mukti shivered involuntarily. There was a brown paper package lying on the floor amidst all the newspapers and packing material. She looked at the parcel with a little trepidation and felt a sudden shudder down her spine. All the events of the last few weeks came alive in front of her. She closed her eyes tightly to banish them in the dark recesses of her mind for her to never find them again, but it was not that simple.

It is never that simple.

It was the onset of winters in Delhi, but Mukti was sweating. She furiously started biting her nails – a nervous habit she had been trying to get rid of for years but failing miserably. She shook her head to clear away all the gloomy thoughts and picked up the parcel. Without warning, hot molten tears began to pool her eyelashes. She tried to blink them back but it was too late. The floodgate had opened and soon the silent streams made their way down her cheeks. Moments passed and she stood there frozen in time, staring at the package in her hand… her mind buzzed with questions.

Should I? Shouldn’t I? Am I doing the right thing? Should I rethink?

The doorbell’s sudden ring startled her. The parcel fell to the floor with a dull thud and she was jolted out of her reverie. She picked it up, placed it on a carton, wiped her face and went to open the door.

The local errand boy of the society, Chottu, stood there in his trademark pale blue jeans too short for his lanky frame. He had on a worn off jacket hanging limply from his bony shoulders.

“You called I, didi?” asked Chhotu craning his neck like a tortoise to peer inside the apartment. He made some extra cash by feeding the gossipy ladies of the building and was just trying to earn his daily wage. Even though his vision was blocked by Mukti, he still managed to see the boxes, a packed suitcase and a rolled up mattress. He looked up at her quizzically. She was dressed in her usual pair of denims and a kurti. There was a jacket lying on one of the boxes.

Without saying anything, Mukti turned back and motioned for him to follow her. Chhotu walked in behind her and saw that the apartment was completely packed up… her books, her photographs, everything. Even all the appliances were back in their packaging and were neatly lined up on one side of the floor.

Mukti placed the package in his hand along with a 500 Rs. note. She scribbled an address on a post-it and gave that to him as well.

“Take the package to this address and give it to Ms. Nita Malhotra. Okay?”

The boy looked down at the piece of paper and nodded.

“Thank you,” she ushered him back towards the door.         

 “Didi, you gone?” he said gesturing at the boxes.

Chhotu’s broken English always brought a smile to her face, but not today.

“Yes, I am gone.  Now go and deliver this before five pm,” saying this she closed the door. She sent up a silent prayer and asked for strength to get through her decision. She kissed the little gold replica of the elephant-headed God hanging from a gold chain around her neck, a present from her mother.

She walked over to her handbag and pulled out the ticket her brother had sent - a seven pm one-way flight to Bangalore. She looked at her watch… Three hours to go before she needed to be at the airport.

She sat down on the bare floor with her active imagination working overtime. Like an old Hindi movie, a film reel started playing in her head and she could see herself half-lying on the floor with her kajal running down her face, her hair falling over her eyes, her nose all red and blocked up.

I was such a mess. A total emotional wreck.

 She had called up the only person she could think off - her brother.

I want to come back,’ she had uttered hoarsely in between intermittent sobs.

‘Okay. Are you alright?’

‘No. I am not and I don’t want to talk about it,’ that’s when she had started crying again and had hung up the phone. Within the next half an hour, she got an email from him. He had just mailed a ticket for the next flight out of the city. Like always, he had not asked even a single question.

And that’s how he had always been, not very big with words but always there when needed. Her big brother, Pankaj Chopra, Mr. Dependable.

She thought about their impending meeting. What will she say when she would meet him at the airport. Should she tell him why she had decided to come back? Will he understand her or would he also judge her, like them? Suddenly, without warning, Pankaj’s warm and kind face emerged in front of her eyes and as she watched, the smile faded and his brow creased. She saw him going through a gamut of emotions - disbelief, shock, and disappointment - and finally he sat down crestfallen shaking his head. This imaginary scene induced a wave of nausea and pain.

No, I can’t tell him. I won’t. I don’t want to see disappointment in anyone’s eyes anymore.  She shook her head violently. Fearful of rejection, she decided against telling anyone anything back home.

I will think of something. I will make up a story. I can’t tell them… not yet.   

She knew she needed to break away. She needed an end to feeling miserable all the time. She wanted to be at peace and that was why she was leaving, wasn’t it?

I am tired of all the fights and the discussions… of explaining myself. I am tired of thinking about what is right and what is wrong.

All she wanted to do was to run and hide behind her mother and sleep. Mukti knew as long as she was here, in Delhi, her dreams and ambitions had-              

The doorbell broke her chain of thought once again. She opened the door. The workers from movers and packers had come back after their tea break. Reeking of beedi and without exchanging any pleasantries they got down to work. Mukti stood near the window and looked down at her life being loaded at the back of a van. It struck her as funny that two years of her life didn’t even occupy the full trunk space of a minivan. She smiled sarcastically. After the last carton had been shoved inside, the supervisor came and asked her to sign some documents. Her hand shivered a little as she signed on the dotted line.

This feels like handing these strangers a part of me.

She saw from the window as the van moved out of the driveway, Mukti felt a sudden urge to yell and ask them to stop. She controlled herself and waved to nobody in particular as she saw cardboard boxes containing a little bit of her, getting smaller and smaller every second until they disappeared altogether.       
                                        
With a deep sigh, she looked around at her empty apartment… one last time. Only her hand baggage and a suitcase remained, everything else was on its way to Bangalore. She had flashes of herself sitting and typing on the mattress, making Maggi inside the kitchenette, standing by the window sipping tea looking at the sunrise… She closed her eyes to capture every memory and take it with her.

Mukti was just about to leave when her eyes settled on a photograph lying on the floor, half hidden by a newspaper.  She bent down and took the picture in her hand, turned it over and like before another reel started playing in her head.

“Surprise!” Sonali yelled in her ear.
 Mukti jumped and almost fell from the mattress.
“What the…?! Eh….?” Mukti rubbed her eyes. She saw Priya holding a cake and Sonali almost on top of her.
 “Use your words Mukti,” Sonali laughed.
“How did you get in here?” Mukti asked yawning.
“Using the emergency key you had given us,” Priya said nonchalantly placing the cake next to Mukti.
Before Mukti could even open her mouth to define what an emergency is Priya spoke up, “This was an emergency. Now get up and cut the cake. It’s going to be midnight in a few seconds.” She yanked the bed cover off of her and made Mukti sit up.
Sonali started the countdown, “3… 2… 1!! Happy Birthday!”
Mukti blew out the candles and cut the cake. With a piece in her hand she was wondering who to give it to first when Sonali put her hand on the icing and smeared it all over Mukti’s face.
“My sheets!!”
‘It’s your birthday! Chill! We’ll get you new ones,” said Priya applying some icing on Mukti’s nose.
“In that case…” Mukti took a big chunk of cake and spread it all over their faces. Soon it turned into a full-fledged cake fight. As it was two against one, Mukti resigned to her fate and the two girls proceeded to apply cake in Mukti’s hair, ears, and anywhere they could reach. Sonali even placed a cherry on Mukti’s nose.
“Now you look like a birthday girl,” Sonali said admiring her handiwork. The three girls laughed and posed together for a picture from Priya’s iPhone.

Mukti stared back at that same picture. Their faces were smeared with the icing but she could see their twinkling eyes - a pair of big black ones and another with a lighter brownish shade. She saw herself too, a cherry placed precariously on her nose. She smiled fondly.

She didn’t know how she had ended up like this… all alone. The more she stared at the happy faces, the more she wanted to cry. This was the time when she needed them the most… when she wanted to talk to them, hear their voice telling her that it is okay, that everything will turn out alright. She wanted both of them to tell her that she didn’t do anything wrong… that if they were in her place, they would have done the same. But, she knew that was not going to happen.

Before the monster of the past could rear its ugly head and remind her again of the events of the past couple of weeks - the fights, the arguments, and the break up - she rushed into the washroom and splashed some water on her face. She looked up at herself in the mirror. Her tears had mingled with the water and made translucent lines zigzagging across her face. She tried to distinguish which was which. In that one instant, she felt strangely calm. Mukti splashed some more water and dried her face. Without glancing at herself again, she came out.

She picked up her handbag and her suitcase and stepped out of her eerily silent apartment. After locking the door behind her, she gave the key back to Mr. Ghosh, her landlord, who was standing at the gate of their apartment complex, Sapna Residency, waiting for her. Thankfully, he was not a talker, unlike his wife, and Mukti managed to get away without much explanation. She started walking, clutching the picture in one hand and her suitcase in other. If Mukti wasn’t so distracted she would have noticed that it was a beautiful day. The setting sun added a pinkish tinge to the sky but ominous purplish grey clouds also hung afar steadily rolling in. The birds were flying back to their nests, chirping happily, but, Mukti didn’t see anything, she just walked with her head bent down.

Walking had always helped her in the past, but not anymore. It didn’t matter how hard she tried or how fast she walked, she couldn’t stop thinking about them, her girls. She didn’t want to make eye contact with anyone. She was too weary to make small talk or explain to the nosy housewives where and why she was going. Someone called out to her but Mukti ignored the voice and walked on resolutely ahead concentrating on getting away as fast as possible from everyone who knew her.  She was annoyed by the fact that everything around her seemed the same as before. The kids playing in the park, the neighborhood aunties exchanging the day’s gossip, the elders discussing politics… Everything was as it was yesterday.  As she walked past them, she heard the snippets of their conversation and the unfairness of it all hit her. All of them were going on about their business like every other day but her life had turned upside down. Mukti quickened her pace and was now almost running.

 She started blaming herself for whatever that had happened with her.

It’s all my fault.                                                                                                                                  

She started crying softly. She looked around and she didn’t know where she was. It began to rain but she walked on. The thoughts didn’t leave her. They filled her like a vicious web of smoke entangling her mind. She was stuck, unable to shake it off. The blank faces of Priya and Sonali burst out from the smoke and stared at her with vacant eyes as if questioning her, accusing her, blaming her. The rain started to come down harder, she realized that she was shivering. She looked at the road. It was getting slippery. She decided to concentrate on walking.

Maybe that might help clear the smoke filled fog in her brain.                                                          

Mukti walked on. She didn’t know how much time had passed… Maybe ten minutes, maybe an hour, maybe two hours. The rain was still falling as hard as before. Mukti was drenched completely. Her teeth were chattering and she was chilled to the bone. She decided to call for a cab.

She heard it first.                                                                                                                                       

A loud horn boomed nearby. She squinted as she couldn’t see clearly. She just saw two bright lights. She didn’t even have time to realize what was happening. Everything was in slow motion after that. She let go of her suitcase and her bag that fell with a thud, spilling out all the contents… her wallet, phone, tickets, diary, pen and a kajal stick on the road beside her. Next, she remembered falling and seeing lights everywhere. The picture clutched in her hand was flying away with the wind. She followed it with her eyes. It landed a few feet away dissolving into shreds as the rain came down hard. It was the last thing that Mukti saw… three pairs of smiling eyes and the cherry on her nose before everything went quiet and dark. The smoke finally left. The voices died down.                      

Mukti Chopra was finally at peace.

6 comments:

  1. Cant wait for nexxt Monday...now monday's will have something i look forward to :)

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    Replies
    1. Thank so much for reading... Your words mean a lot. Stay tuned for Monday! :)

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  2. Very gripping. I will wait for the next installment.

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  3. Hi Megha, please let me know if your book got published or getting published. Anyways, I want to congratulate you for your enthusiasm and please keep doing what you are good at.

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  4. Awesome work.Just wanted to drop a comment and say I am new to your blog and really like what I am reading.Thanks for the share

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